Length of PR career (so far): 40 years and counting. I was at J. Walter Thompson PR for four, ABC News for six, CBS News and CBS Inc. for nine and, now, Goodman Media, which I founded 21 years ago.
Your most memorable campaign: British Airways (through its agency M&C Saatchi) was our founding client; I was brought in to help publicize one of the biggest promotional stunts in the airline’s history—the placement of a half-sized model of the Concorde atop a building in Times Square. Goodman Media literally “took off” with that project and it’s a nice coincidence that our office overlooks that site today.
Most poignant professional moment: I spent one year after college as a newspaper reporter in Ohio and nothing in school or life prepared me for one of my first big stories, a triple murder of three beautiful little girls, ages 19 months, two and a half, and four. Seeing what happened to those kids, photographing them and reporting the story became part of my life; I never forgot the girls or their mother, for reasons that quickly became apparent. She committed the unimaginable crime.
Favorite journalist to work with: Tom Jolly, of The New York Times, whom I’ve known since our college days at Ohio Wesleyan University. He’s now the associate masthead editor overseeing print, after holding several other top positions, including Sports Editor. Tom is always fair and brutally honest; one of the best professionals you would ever want to meet in the business.
Number of 2 a.m. calls from a client this month: Zero, thank goodness.
Biggest complaint about social media: The speed in which news moves today adversely affects the way clients can respond, especially in a crisis. When I started out in the business, we literally had all day to react and craft a message. Those days are gone forever.
Best thing about working at your agency: I think I share the same belief as my colleagues; we enjoy working on high-profile, classy organizations that have meaningful things to say on a myriad of issues. We also like the diversity of these clients that range from media and publishing to professional services to healthcare and beyond.
Most outrageous client request: We worked on three Harry Potter book launches (two for Scholastic and one for Borders), and I once received a request for a preview copy of the book before the official launch date, as if it were no big deal. We also had a client – in full crisis mode – who asked us to fly through a hurricane to get his offices in another state; in this case we actually obliged. That’s simply the type of service our clients expect, although I wouldn’t want to make a habit out of that.
What got you interested in a PR career? My first mentor was Mike Welch, who worked in the communications office at Ohio Wesleyan, before moving to Stanford University. I loved his passion for public relations, his sincerity, and his great class and professionalism. He got me hooked, early on. Jim Ahtes, who I met at my first PR job at J. Walter Thompson, was another great mentor. Mike and Jim are still heroes to me, all these years later. And I never pass up an opportunity to thank them.
Most interesting thing about your job: Never knowing what the new day will bring; we receive such interesting calls and emails, inquiring about our work. Some are surprising. A few days before the movie “The Social Network” was released, I received a call from a lawyer friend who asked me to come to his office to meet a client. I left the lawyer’s office a few hours later…representing a Facebook co-founder. Surprises like this one make the job so interesting, exciting and fascinating.
Rate your math skills from 1-10: I’d give myself a “2,” which is generous. And that comes from a father of an applied mathematics and economics major at Harvard. Go figure.
Best advice to a PR student: Work on writing and learning the news business. You can’t be a good PR person if you don’t like, understand and have a passion for news. When I speak to PR classes at the likes of Boston University, Brigham Young University (where we have a great partnership) and my alma mater, I tell the kids that if they get their hands dirty from newspaper ink, it’s a good thing.
What do you read daily? In order (in print and online)…The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News and the New York Post. Two online “musts” are Poynter, for Jim Warren’s brilliant observations on the daily happenings in Washington and beyond, as well as PBS NewsHour.
Favorite way to de-stress: I’m a car buff, dating back to my days at Scarsdale High School. I enjoy going out for drives, in or out of New York City. I was recently a judge in the Robb Report’s Car of the Year competition in Napa, where I got to drive several of the world’s greatest exotic cars. My top three choices were selected in the top four; not bad.
The moment you realized PR is more fun than you thought it would be: I was on the Kodak account at J. Walter Thompson, and I travelled across the country in a single week to do case history interviews at five major newspapers, all in different states. They were converting their presses to color and using Kodak products, of course. It was so exciting (albeit exhausting) for a young kid just one year out of college.
Worst PR crisis in the news this past year: Volkswagen, hands down, with the added sadness that we have one in the family. Luckily, it is a non-diesel. The VW crisis was self-inflicted and totally avoidable.
Brand that does the best PR: I’d like to say that every one of our clients does best-in-class work. That being said, I do think very highly of the communications work done by the likes of GE, Nike and Apple.
Brand most in need of better PR: I’ll try to be apolitical here, but I’d have to say the Presidency.
Last book you read: Adam Grant’s Give and Take. The book’s cover line says it all: “Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.” Dale Moss, one of my all-time favorite clients from the British Airways days, recommended it, and I’m glad he did.
Cocktail of choice: Red wine, preferably from the wineries where my brother Ken, the original, non-musical “Kenny G,” has worked: Rosenblum Cellars, BV Vineyards and, now, Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga.
Favorite movie this year: LION.
Your first “real” job: Reporter for The Delaware Gazette in Ohio, where I covered everything from city government to sports to crime (as mentioned earlier). One memorable experience, for unpleasant reasons, was being maced and locked in a jail cell by the sheriff’s deputies. It was a mix of modest hazing and joshing for the new reporter in town, although minutes later, I wasn’t laughing.
Childhood “dream job”: Newspaper reporter, especially in the post-Watergate era. As luck would have it, Carl Bernstein and I got to know each other at ABC News in the 80s, and we’re still in touch all these years later.
Three people you’d love to invite to dinner: Steven Spielberg, Matthew Weiner and Willie Mays, my childhood idol. I wore #24 in his honor on my Scarsdale High School lacrosse team.
Your next big adventure: I have this crazy dream of being an assistant lacrosse coach at Trinity School in New York; my wife is not too keen on that.
Your ideal Saturday: Spending time with my daughter, who works in LA on ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat”, or watching a Harvard or Ohio Wesleyan lacrosse game with my son. I do regret that I haven’t seen my Scarsdale HS team play since graduation in ’72. I hope I can fix that this year.